Provincetown versus Rehoboth: Black Sneakers or Black Flip Flops?

In 1945, Cleveland Amory wrote The Last Resorts, a history of the rise and fall of America’s great Eastern resorts, the places where the blue-blood gin and tonic set spent their summers and winters. Amory was a best-selling author – rumored to be gay – and an editor at The Saturday Evening Post.

I stumbled across Amory one afternoon while exploring an old Pines cottage slated for the wrecking ball. I did not break in. The doors and windows were torn out and the front steps removed. All that was left inside were some old books, including The Last Resorts.

The book got me jonesing to write about the gay resorts, that string of pearls along the Atlantic strand – Ogunquit, Provincetown, Fire Island, Rehoboth, Ft. Lauderdale, and Key West, the places where the pink-bloods vacation. I got my chance recently while attending my old college roommate’s wedding to his beau in Provincetown. Most of the guys in attendance had heard of Rehoboth, but had never visited. They were interested in my comparisons of the two towns.

Geographically, both Provincetown and Rehoboth are located on a cape: Cod and Henlopen. Both are officially “islands,” cut off from the mainland by man-made canals. And, both have religious origins — the Pilgrims first landed at Provincetown before moving on to Plymouth, while the Methodists founded Rehoboth as a summer camp. People complain about the traffic and the time it takes to reach either destination, especially on a holiday weekend.

Like Rehoboth, P’town has its share of t-shirt shops, taffy and fudge stores, ice cream stands, and pizza joints. P’town is only two blocks wide, so just about every business establishment spills out onto Commercial Street, the three-mile long main street. The locals say you don’t dare ride your bike on Commercial Street in the summer because of the throngs of tourists waddling up and down the street and the big SUVs cruising the main drag. The red sight-seeing trolley is a common sight, as are people hawking lunch and dinner specials.

But it’s not all schlock. P’town, after all, is a gay town with an artistic bent, and that’s one of the biggest differences between Rehoboh and P’town. Artists have always flocked to Provincetown, and they still do. Art is everywhere in P’town, in galleries, on bulletin boards and fences, on public greenspace, in gardens, on the wharfs, and even on people. The arts are less an influence in Rehoboth, though the Art League has a proud, if waning, presence. The Rehoboth Independent Film Festival is going strong and more artists have begun moving to Rehoboth. Still, there’s a reason John Waters spends his summers in P’town rather than in Rehoboth.

The art of drag seems to be more popular in P’town than in Rehoboth. Headliners like Hedda Lettuce, Pearlene, Thursty Burlington, Miss Richman, and Cashetta (who bills herself as the world’s only drag queen magician) make P’town their summer home. Cashetta, in fact, made a guest appearance at the wedding we were attending, delighting the crowd with her ability to deep-throat a 3-foot long balloon.

P’towners also take their preservation seriously. I never once saw a white plastic fence or vinyl siding on a house. New homes look like they’ve been around for a hundred years. Natural materials are au courant for driveways and parking lots – clamshells, pea gravel, and, in one case, even crushed pottery and porcelain. As I crouched down to examine what looked like fragments of bright orange and yellow Fiestaware, I felt a little sad because it reminded me of how Rehoboth is losing its seaside resort quaintness and taking on instead a convenient, plastic, suburban façade. Not that I’m advocating for driveways made of crushed dinner plates, just for a little more creativity.

But, enough already about the arts. How do the boys compare? That’s what the gay guys at the wedding really wanted to hear about. I pondered the question and decided to frame my answer in a way that I think Cleveland Amory might have liked. Amory, you see, was especially fond of typecasting the great resorts. So, in the spirit of dear old Amory, here’s my stereotype: P’town is the scruffy guy wearing camouflage shorts, no underwear, black vintage Converse sneakers, and sporting a couple of piercings; Rehoboth is the clean-shaven fella wearing flat front khaki shorts, boxer briefs, and black flip flops.

Yeah, I know it’s dangerous to talk about stereotypes because there are always exceptions. But, hear me out. P’town is a better known gay destination than Rehoboth, and it attracts more tourists from around the globe. Germans and Dutchmen and Brits. You really notice that gay international vibe and you see a lot of guys with shaved heads or punk haircuts, tattoos, and piercings. Unlike Rehoboth, I didn’t see many men in Polo shirts. Nor did I smell cologne. The scent in P’town is sex and you can smell it on the streets and in the restaurants and bars. I didn’t get a chance to sniff it at the beach because it rained the entire time I was there.

I hadn’t been to P’town in about ten years until this visit. I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would. Despite my horror at the “plastification” of Rehoboth, I still relish the ability to sit quietly on my screened porch, listen to the crickets, and sip a cocktail with a couple of friends. Yet, I can just as easily stroll into town and plunge into the cha-cha summer social scene. I’m not sure I could find this same ying-yang dynamic in P’town, which, despite its artistic pedigree and white picket fences, feels to me crowded, jumbled, louder, and slightly more manic than Rehoboth. Whirligig is a word that comes to mind. I guess I’m just more comfortable wearing cheap black flip flops rather than black vintage sneakers.

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